Shakespearean Tragic Heroes

A tragic hero is a literary figure who makes a mistake that leads to their downfall. The term “tragic hero” comes from the Greek word for “hero,” which was used to describe protagonists in tragedies.

Shakespeare is one of the most famous writers of tragic heroes. His plays often revolve around characters who make errors in judgment that lead to their ruin. Some of Shakespeare’s most famous tragic heroes include Hamlet, Macbeth, and King Lear.

While tragic heroes are typically associated with classical literature, the term can also be applied to modern fictional characters. For example, Jay Gatsby from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby could be considered a tragic hero. He is a man who is obsessed with wealth and status, and his desires ultimately lead to his downfall.

Tragic heroes are often complex characters who are struggling with internal conflict. They may be torn between two courses of action, or they may be aware of the potential consequences of their actions but feel compelled to act anyway. This internal struggle is a key component of what makes a tragic hero so relatable and compelling. We can see ourselves in these characters, and their stories offer a warning about the dangers of human frailty.

The concept of “tragic hero” was first used to describe Hamlet before it was employed to describe any of Shakespeare’s well-known plays. Aristotle coined the phrase “tragic hero” in 330 BC, during a debate over whether or not great drama by Sophocles, Euripides, and other Greek playwrights displayed similar tragic heroes who all exhibited four basic qualities (“English Lit.”). 

While the definition of a tragic hero has been expanded and debated throughout the years, at its core, a tragic hero is simply a character who experiences an overwhelming fall from glory because of his own tragic flaw.

Some common tragic flaws include hubris (excessive pride), uncertainty and fear (hamartia), and recklessness (ate). A good example of a tragic hero with hubris is Oedipus Rex from the play by Sophocles. Oedipus’s tragic flaw is his over-confidence; he believes that he can avoid his fate, even going so far as to blinding himself when he finally realizes that he has accidentally killed his father and married his mother. Other examples of tragic heroes with this same tragic flaw include Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Julius Caesar.

An example of a tragic hero whose flaw is hamartia is Prince Hamlet from the play by Shakespeare. Hamlet’s problem is that he over-thinks everything and can never seem to take decisive action, leading to disastrous consequences. This tragic flaw is also seen in Othello and Romeo & Juliet.

Finally, an example of a tragic hero with the recklessness flaw is Brutus from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Brutus makes several impulsive decisions throughout the course of the play that lead to his downfall, including joining the conspirators against Caesar and killing himself after realizing that their plot has failed.

While these are some of the most common tragic flaws, it is important to remember that a tragic hero can have more than one flaw and that these flaws do not always lead to the character’s death. However, the fall from grace that a tragic hero experiences is always a result of his own actions and choices.

What sets Shakespearean tragic heroes apart from other literary characters is the fact that they are usually of high social standing. In addition, Shakespearean tragic heroes are often brought down by their own hubris or sense of self-importance. These characteristics are what make them both relatable and pitiable to readers and audiences alike.

While there have been many great tragic heroes throughout history, Shakespeare’s works continue to be some of the most well-known and studied. This is likely because Shakespeare was able to so accurately capture the human condition with his characters, flaws and all.

Shakespeare’s tragedies are famous for their tragic heroes. A tragic hero is a character who has a fatal flaw that leads to his or her downfall. Shakespeare’s best-known tragic heroes are Hamlet, Macbeth, and Julius Caesar.

A tragic flaw is the most significant feature of a Shakespearean tragic hero, as without one, there would be no downfall. The ultimate failing differs from play to play, but in King Lear it’s pride, and in Macbeth it’s ambition. Othello might be accused of harboring a variety of flaws, including gullibility and stupidity. Gullibility and stupidity are among Othello’s offenses. In either case, the character does not recognize his or her faults until act five; however , by then it is too late (Desjardens).

A tragic hero also has a great deal of pride. In the works of Shakespeare, tragic heroes are often people who think highly of themselves and their own abilities. This is one reason why their downfall is so tragic—they fall because they have overestimated themselves. Othello, for example, is a tragic hero because he is too proud to listen to anyone else’s opinion; he believes that he knows best, and as a result, he makes fatal mistakes (Sparknotes Editors).

Another important characteristic of a Shakespearean tragic hero is that the character must make an error in judgment. This error in judgment leads to the character’s downfall and eventual death. The error in judgment can be anything from ambition to gullibility, but it is always something that the character could have avoided if they had thought things through more carefully. In Macbeth, for example, the title character makes the error of ambition when he decides to kill Duncan in order to become king himself. This decision leads to his downfall and eventual death (Sparknotes Editors).

Lastly, a Shakespearean tragic hero must suffer. This suffering can be physical, mental, or emotional, but it is always intense and often includes death. The suffering of the tragic hero is usually caused by their own actions or by the actions of other characters. In Othello, for example, the tragic hero suffers mental anguish when he realizes that he has killed his wife Desdemona out of jealousy. This mental anguish eventually leads to his physical death (Sparknotes Editors).

Shakespeare’s tragic heroes are some of the most complex and fascinating characters in all of literature. They are people who are flawed, make mistakes, and suffer as a result of their actions. But despite their tragic endings, they remain compelling and interesting figures, and their stories continue to resonate with readers centuries after they were first written.

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